opinionBy Sandesh Bhugaloo
This is my first time in President Museveni's very conservative Uganda and I am amazed to see that the words 'gay' and 'lesbian' are not visible or audible - anywhere. Not in the supposedly independent newspapers, not on the most popular radio stations. Forget about TV. However, when I slide into my seat at Nine Degrees on Kampala Road, I am hopeful...
Only in my wishful head! Even at 'Mic Check', the best comedy show in Uganda, there's no mention of homosexuality. So, I can't help myself. At the after-party, I ask one of the celebrity comedians named...oh, right, no mentioning of names in this blog. (We are in Uganda, remember.)
"Even comedians like me find it difficult to talk about gay people," he tells me. "If I post something about gay people on Facebook, my account will be deactivated." I am pleasantly surprised he opens up to me. "That anti-gay bill, that is crude," he goes on.
Just a little life...imprisonment
In the meantime, I learn the Ugandan government has rethought its - in the words of parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga - "early Christmas gift". No more death penalty for those who get caught in the act. All the local gays breathe again. If they repeat the act, they only risk... life imprisonment.
My comedian friend tells me that that bill should be applied to corruption. "No gay person is killing someone by being gay. But so many people are killing so many innocent people by eating government funds." Oh, yes, and there's a lot of that going on in Museveni's government. The papers are full of it these days.
"How convenient to bring up the anti-gay bill again in parliament," says a guy at the bar, joining in. I learn he is a blogger. "The gay issue is a big diversion from more serious issues, like corruption. This is what they [the authorities] always do. And they are not going to do anything about that bill. It's gonna stay in parliament. So when the corruption saga seizes, they will also chill on it," he says.
The comedian chimes in. "We have so many guys who are gay in high places, but they can never ever come out of the closet because of the tradition, religion, cultural beliefs we are brought up with from a very young age," he explains. In his opinion, churches, mosques and cultural leaders weigh too heavily in that reasoning balance. He gets emotional when he says: "I respect gay people for their courage, especially in such a conservative state like Uganda, where everybody believes in what they are told."
On my way home, after a few beers, I dare to ask my taxi driver's opinion. "Unfortunately, the gay people are not helping themselves," he says, referring to reports about some homosexuals said to be influencing schoolchildren in an effort to grow their community.
He continues: "The worst thing is the recruitment campaign by gay people. Let it be somebody's choice. But they go and convince children in schools that they are gay. That is why it has affected so many people here. That is wrong."
When I awaken the following day, I remember what the comedian said: "Personally, I think everybody is supposed to live their own lives. Who am I to judge? It's their choice, their decision. I'm comfortable with it. But it's my opinion, I will keep it for myself until the time Uganda is ready for it."
But over breakfast I ask myself: will it ever be?